When Patrisse was 14 her 19-year-old brother Monte was sentenced to 32 months in the Los Angeles County Jail. There deputies beat him over the head with billy clubs, shocked him with tasers, and eventually choked him unconscious. He woke up in a pool of his own blood and bleeding from his ears and nose. He was later diagnosed with bipolar schizoaffective disorder which symptoms include hallucinations, delusions, and mood disorders such as mania and depression. Like most people who are imprisoned and brutalized, he was also suffering from post-traumatic stress.
As a mechanism for healing and change in her and other families’ lives, in 2011 Patrisse created the Coalition to End Sheriff Violence. She and other volunteers would stand outside of the county jails talking to former incarcerated people and their families and gradually built a movement to confront the culture of violence in the jails made up of those who are most affected. During this time she also curated her performance piece STAINED: An Intimate Portrayal of State Violence which inspired even more to join in the coalition. The Coalition to End Sheriff Violence is now made up of over 20 Los Angeles based organizations, including the ACLU of Southern California and the Youth Justice Coalition, and has accomplished the creation of Los Angeles County’s first Civilian Oversight Commission over the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. Today they continue to work to decarcerate the jail system and stop jail expansion.
It was clear to Patrisse that taking on mass incarceration meant building a multifaceted movement, a movement that understood that incarceration is traumatic and sheriff violence doesn’t just harm our loved ones in custody, it harms families and communities that become containers for that trauma once loved ones are released. Expanding the organizational, psychological, and motivational capacity to end state violence meant developing five other projects that used art, research, resilience practices, and leadership development as center pieces in the work. Dignity and Power Now was created to be the principle organization for a multifaceted, trauma informed, healing, motivated movement to end state violence and mass incarceration.
Dignity and Power Now (DPN) is a grassroots organization based in Los Angeles that fights for the dignity and power of incarcerated people, their families, and communities. In doing so DPN wages a fight for all lives because the prison industrial complex forms an imaginative limit on everyone’s capacity to envision freedom and liberation. Recently featured refuting Sheriff Jim McDonnell in a series of videos in the LA Times, Dignity and Power Now has several projects including the Coalition to End Sheriff Violence, an artist collective called Freedom Harvest, the bi-annual DPN Zine, a research group called Building Resilience that has presented their reports to the UN, the Dandelion Rising Leadership Institute, and a reentry program inside Soledad State Prison called Success Stories that is run by Patrisse’s good friend and mentee Richie Reseda.
Patrisse served as Executive Director of Dignity and Power Now until her transition to the Ella Baker Center in the spring of 2015 and now is proudly known as DPN’s Founder and Board Member. Patrisse has created a human rights organization that is not only revolutionary in its vision and scope, but also in attempting to counter the oftentimes abusive non-profit culture by developing a shared leadership structure and new strategies for accountability and functionality within the organization, truly embodying dignity and power for all.